Saturday, February 21, 2009

Denver - Aspen / Cessna 182RG (N7166V) / VFR

I decided to fly from Denver to Aspen in one of my tiny Cessna 182s. I soon learned that I still don't have enough practice with mountain flying.

Denver is already a mile above sea level, but with runways that are three miles long, that's not a problem, at least for a small aircraft like mine. Just taxiing to a runway took forever: the taxi from the GA ramp to runway 25 is almost three miles long. But I finally got into the air and undertook a leisurely climb that would keep me clear of terrain by the time I reached the mountains. I planned to follow Interstate 70 most of the way.

Unfortunately, at some point, I ended up following the wrong highway, which I think was Highway 40, where it forks away from the Interstate. Road types are someone more difficult to distinguish in MSFS than in real life, but still, I should have noticed that I was no longer following a divided highway. The Interstate has an obvious division between opposing traffic directions, whereas Highway 40, while divided, has less of a median. But it's hard to notice this from above, and I ended up going the wrong way, heading further north than I intended. I let the aircraft climb at its own pace, and soon I was at 12,000 feet (with oxygen for myself—I had no passengers), so terrain didn't threaten too much, but still, I wasn't happy about losing the Interstate.

I was able to determine my position using the Denver and Red Table VORs, at least intermittently—I kept losing them with intervening terrain. I ended up fumbling around for miles, until I finally noticed the distinctive shape of the Dillon Reservoir beyond a ridge. I turned towards that and eventually picked up the Interstate again as it ran along the west side of the reservoir.

By this time, it was getting quite dark, but there were enough vehicles to allow me to spot the roads. The weather was extremely clear in most directions, and I could see mountains for miles, but there were a few cloudy spots that I had to steer around. As I reached the Interstate, I was at around 15,000 feet, and I could easily receive the Red Table VOR, and with only 30 nm or so to go, I decided to just turn towards the VOR. Before I actually reached DBL, I could see Aspen in the distance in the very clear air, so I just turned left towards the airport. I've been to the airport itself many times, so navigation was simple once I had it in sight.

Landing was uneventful and smooth. I was lucky in that the weather was very good and the winds weren't too bad. Looking at the terrain below, plus the primitive avionics of the C182, were sufficient to get me to my destination, but a lot of things could have gone wrong. I'll have to keep practicing until I get it right.